Tussle at the Top
The headline match-up of the South featured a battle of unbeatens, as the rookie Hyde Park Renegades (HPR) squared off against the reigning champion Coventry Cougars. With GB head coach Andrew Gambrill amongst the bevy of onlookers, it was clear that this fixture was generating a lot of interest. Could HPR show that their record was not an aberration or would the Cougars put to rest any talk of a challenge to their crown?
Heavyweight title bouts often begin with opponents measuring each other through some prodding and exploratory jabs. There would be no such approach from the champs. The Cougars landed an early haymaker as GB QB Millie Barrett launched a lovely ball down the left sideline on the game’s opening play, dropping it into Grace Conway‘s arms for a TD. The XP made it 7-0 and after HPR went four and out, it was evident that the Cougars were ON FIRE!
As the first half played out, the Cougars maintained control but were unable to extend their lead. Drive after drive they crossed midfield only to be held without points. Barrett came closest to extending the lead when she got the ball back on a double QB play, ran down the sideline, only to be pulled two yards short of the endzone. On the flip side, HPR barely possessed the ball as they only managed one first down in the half. They couldn’t connect deep while Coventry’s sound flag pulling prevented anything more than marginal gains. Even so, HPR had a chance to tie following an interception by former Warwick Wolverine and current GB Lion Jen Macchia. Even though the Cougars were forced to defend a short field, they held and maintained a 7-0 lead at halftime.
Coming out of halftime, HPR were perhaps looking to echo their opponents’ start. Former GB QB Angelie De La Cruz finally connected deep on the half’s first play, giving the Renegades first and goal. Coventry made Hyde Park use all of their downs, but on fourth down De La Cruz was able to hit Lindsey Johnson who managed to reach over the goal line just before her flag was pulled. The Cougars now clung to a 7-6 lead and it was game on!
Coventry showed the championship mettle, putting together a long eight play drive. On fourth down, Barrett did well to avoid the blitz before finding her GB teammate, Lottie Laidler wide open in the back right corner for a touchdown. The Cougars were then able to get a stop of their own and reclaimed possession up 13-7.
Driving for a commanding lead with about 8 minutes left, Coventry looked to put the game away. However, on third and middle, Lindsey Johnson made a great read to pick off a Cougar pass and get the ball back for HPR. De La Cruz then drove the Renegades down the field, aided by a contact penalty, and finished the drive off with a TD pass to GB Blitzer Kate Bruinvels. Down 13-12, HPR elected to go for two and the lead. Emma Taylor made a great snag to convert and gave Hyde Park their first lead of the game at 14-13.
Coventry got the ball down 1 with 5 minutes left. After a great first down catch and run by Conway, the Cougars had second and short and dialled up another double QB play. This time, Taylor jumped the route and snagged an interception. She returned it to about the three yard-line before being tackled. HPR would then capitalise, albeit a bit fortunately. Conway made a nice deflection but unluckily, it went right to Lindsey Johnson who secured it for a score.
With two minutes left, the Renegades went for two but were unable to convert, setting the stage for Barrett and Co. Unfortunately for the Cougars, their comeback attempt fell short as Johnson collected her second pick of the day. The Renegades knelt it out and the upset victory was complete.
Ultimately what does this result mean? Firstly, if you weren’t already convinced, HPR are for real. Secondly, it may give hope to the rest of the country that the seemingly invincible Cougars are in fact, beatable. But thirdly and most importantly, outside of seeding it doesn’t mean much. With their wealth of experience and GB talent, Coventry still are the odds on favourites to win the title. If anything, they will be more determined to prove this result was an aberration and that they are in fact, still the class of the UK.
Elsewhere in the South, the London Warriors had the chance to improve on their playoff prospects when they took on the Coventry Cougars Youth team. The former champions managed to oust the Cougars, 14-7, resigning the Coventry outfit to the 4th seed. The Cougars have shown they’re a match for anyone though – they had a 7-6 epic against the #1 seed HPR, and have won in a manner of different ways. This was no more evident than with their final victory of the regular season, when they had a rather unique 2-0 win over the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts Grey. They can score freely, and have shown they can be stout defensively. They’ll get an interesting match-up against the Sheffield Giants in the opening round of the playoffs, and we can’t wait for that one!
The Warriors on the other hand, capped off an excellent return to the Opal Series. The Warriors have become synonymous with some high-scoring offensive play, which has served them well for the most part of the year. They’ll take on the nation’s top defence in the playoffs, as the East Kilbride Pirates make their playoff debut. That game is guaranteed to be an excellent battle of styles!
Silver and Bronze Teams
With the top 4 essentially decided before the start of the day, the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts had their own derby, as the Grey team cemented their place in the Silver bracket, while the Blue will go after a in the Bronze bracket.
The Wembley Stallions will join the Dreadnoughts Grey in the Silver playoffs after notching 3 wins on the year, while the Iceni Spears will be aiming to pick up a win in the Bronze section of the post-season